The Westminster Big Three: zen-like serenity or zombies in action?

October 25th, 2014

How come poor CON/LAB/LD polls are being accepted so readily?

Time was when you could be reasonably sure that a party struggling in the polls would lead inevitably to speculation about its leader’s position.  The media would talk about it, backbench MPs would talk about it and cabinet or shadow cabinet members would let their friends talk about it.  What is remarkable about the last few years is that despite unprecedented combined unpopularity of both leaders and parties, there has been so little such talk never mind action.

Of course, the fact that all three main Westminster parties are so unpopular simultaneously may have something to do with that: it’s easy to console yourself that you stand a decent chance of recovery when your opponents are doing badly too.

Even so, this is very far from a zero-sum game.  All three parties face an existential threat.  UKIP has the potential to replace either the Tories or Labour (but not both) after the next election as the main party in their part of the spectrum if the cards fall well for it.  Neither has a right to exist, never mind to success, and both parties’ former core vote is disillusioned.  At the moment, Farage’s party’s mid- to upper-teens score would probably see them pick up only a handful of seats but were that to be upped to the mid-twenties that would do real damage.

The prospect of such a step-change in UKIP’s polling is far from inconceivable: they have polled up there on occasion, by-election victories between now and April would reinforce their current momentum and the debates – if they happen – provide a further opportunity to advance.

Strangely, a half-reasonable performance may be worse in the long run than a bad one as it’s far harder to fight off the threat while in government.  Clacton has already demonstrated the risks to the Conservatives and Rochester may reinforce that message.  Should Labour regain government, the danger may be even worse, polling as it is in the low thirties with the support of a great many 2010 Lib Dem defectors.  A majority Ed Miliband-led government could easily leak that support straight back on one wing while being assailed by UKIP on the other.  Gordon Brown’s Labour government bottomed out at 18% in the polls; an Ed Miliband one could go further still – and that might drop it to fourth place by vote share.

For the Lib Dems the threat is greater still and more immediate: their party has lost more than two-thirds of their 2010 vote, a level meaning it’s dicing with oblivion.  True, local strongholds appear firm for now but results from the constituency polls sit uneasily with the national ones: my guess is that it’s the national ones and we’ll see Lib Dem support edge up as May approaches and people think more about their local situation.  But it may not and didn’t in Scotland in 2011, where the Yellows lost all but two of their constituency seats (and Orkney & Shetland is just one seat for Westminster).

    With threats to their existence such as the parties have not faced in many decades, if ever, what’s remarkable is how calm the leaderships and parliamentary parties are. 

There is grumbling about Miliband but no serious threat this side of the election.  Cameron has suffered two defections – one reinforced by a by-election defeat – but despite their reputation for deposing leaders, Tory backbenchers have remained unusually quiet on the subject.  Even quieter have been Lib Dems, who are polling worst of all and perhaps have most opportunity for change (their leader has the worst ratings, plausible alternatives are available and one of the causes of their woes – being in government – could be resolved by a well-timed withdrawal).

Will one or more of the parties brake out of their zen-like calm – or zombie-like sleepwalking if you prefer – before the election?  I doubt it.  It’s almost too late now to change strategy or leader and will be by the New Year.  These things need pressure to build and that rarely happens quickly.  It also needs anger, focus and division, and such factors simply aren’t present in sufficient quantity, particularly when there’s the belief that the other side(s) might hand you victory by default.  It is somewhat ironic that the biggest upheaval in the political system since at least the early 1980s has produced so little reaction.  But then maybe that’s the point: the changes are so far outside their experience, they can’t reach for a stock response and like rabbits in Farage’s headlights, produce none.

David herdson


Best tip on PB in the past year: UKIP at 40-1 to win Cambourne and Redruth

October 24th, 2014

betsPP (1)

To whoever suggested this my thanks

I’ve just been reviewing my current open political bets and one, which I’d completely forgotten about, was UKIP to win Cambourne & Redruth at an amazing 40/1. It was placed with PaddyPower a week before Christmas.

My recall is that this came out of a discussion one evening and I think Peter the Punter was involved. If I’ve named the wrong person then my apologies.

Five months after that bet an Ashcroft poll of the seat had CON 29%, UKIP 26%, LAB 24%, LD 14%. Currently UKIP are second favourites at 7/2.

Given what’s happening and the possible consequences of a Tory defeat in Rochester then UKIP in seats like this become great value bets.

Mike Smithson

Ranked in top 33 most influential over 50s on Twitter


Gains for LAB, CON and SNP in this week’s council by-elections

October 24th, 2014

Oban North and Lorn on Argyll and Bute (Ind Defence)
Result: Scottish National Party 1,090 (41% +16%), Independent 629 (24% +1%), Labour 530 (20% -2%), Conservative 415 (16% -2%)
SNP lead of 461 (17%) on the first count on a swing of 8% from Independent to SNP, SNP GAIN from Independent on the fourth count

Rogate on Chichester (Con Defence)
Result: Conservatives 342 (71% -20%), UKIP 138 (29%)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 204 (42%) on a swing of 25% from Conservative to UKIP

Burnopfield and Dipton (Derwentside Independents Defence) and Evenwood (Lab Defence) on Durham
Burnopfield and Dipton
Result: Labour 656 (45% +7%), Derwentside Independent 655 (45% +10%), Conservative 86 (6%), Green 63 (4%)
Labour GAIN from Derwentside Independent with a majority of 1 (0%) on a swing of 1.5% from Labour to Derwentside Independent (True Swing: 17% from Independent to Labour)

Result: Labour 546 (38% -14%), Conservatives 396 (28% -3%), UKIP 309 (22% +5%), Independent 108 (8%), Green 72 (5%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 150 (10%) on a swing of 6% from Labour to Conservative

Newnham and Westbury on Forest of Dean (Ind Defence)
Result: Independent 321 (39%), Conservatives 216 (26%), UKIP 102 (12%), Labour 100 (12%), Greens 70 (8%), Liberal Democrats 25 (3%)
Independent HOLD with a majority of 105 (13%)

Mitcheldean on Gloucestershire (Ind Defence)
Result: Conservatives 959 (38% +14%), UKIP 550 (22% +3%), Independent 455 (18% -18%), Labour 278 (11% +1%), Liberal Democrats 150 (6% unchanged), Greens 106 (4% unchanged)
Conservative GAIN from Independent with a majority of 409 (16%) on a swing of 6% from UKIP to Conservative

Haywards Heath, Lucastes on Mid Sussex (Con Defence)
Result: Conservatives 524 (56%), UKIP 203 (22%), Liberal Democrat 112 (12%), Labour 90 (10%)
Conservative HOLD with a majority 321 (34%)

Folkestone, Harvey West on Shepway (Con Defence)
Result: Conservatives 385 (39%), UKIP 293 (29%), Liberal Democrats 262 (26%), Labour 57 (6%)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 92 (10%)

The main headline has to be four UKIP MISSES including two in prime UKIP areas

Harry Hayfield


The great CON Rochester primary mystery – how the reported turnout of 4,000 became 5,688

October 24th, 2014

Why aren’t we getting the full numbers like in Totnes in 2009?

The first news that all was not well with the CON Rochester primary was this report, now not on the Spectator site, from the usually well informed Isabel Hardman.

An hour or so later were told that “Kelly Tolhurst wins Tories’ postal primary Rochester & Strood with 50.44% to Anna Firth’s 49.56%. 5,688 ballots returned.”

That was an odd way to present the figures. Why not , as in the 2009 primaries, give the full numbers with the total of spoilt papers? The fact that we are not getting this detail raises my suspicions.

    Could it be that Hardman’s original 4,000 figure was the correct number of valid votes and that it was decided to present the outcome as being a little bit better for the party by talking of the number of ballots returned with the actual candidate totals presented as percentages.

If the turnout is based on number of valid votes then 4,000 would make it about 5.3% not the 7.5% that talking about ballots returned suggests.

Given the controversy surrounding the whole election and the primary itself it would not be surprising if Rochester voters hostile to the Tories spoilt their ballots before popping them in the return paid envelopes and posting them.

It would have been far better for the party to have come clean about the actual numbers last night rather than allow these questions to be raised.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Local By-Election Preview : October 23rd 2014

October 23rd, 2014

Oban North and Lorn on Argyll and Bute (Ind Defence)
Result of last election to council (2012): Independents 15, Scottish National Party 13, Conservatives 4, Liberal Democrats 4 (No Overall Control, Independents short by 3)
Result of last election to ward (2014): Scottish National Party 595 (25%), Independent 548 (23%), Labour 526 (22%), Conservatives 445 (18%), Independent 301 (12%).
Candidates duly nominated: Kieron Green (Lab), Stephanie Irvine (Ind), Iain Maclean (SNP), Andrew Vennard (Con)

The SNP will be hoping that the opinion poll rises in the wake of the Scottish referendum (which in some cases project no less than fifteen MP’s at Westminster and another majority at Holywrood) will manage to overturn the problems that they have been having in Scotland of late. So far this year, the SNP have lost three seats in local by-elections (this is in comparsion with Plaid being unchanged and the Greens gaining three) and the last by-election here in July wasn’t that encouraging either.

Rogate on Chichester (Con Defence)
Result of council at last election (2011): Conservatives 27, Liberal Democrats 5, Independents 4, Labour 2 (Conservative majority of 16)
Result of ward at last election (2011): Conservative 990 (91%), Labour 97 (9%)
Candidates duly nominated: Gillian Keegan (Con), Elena McCloskey (UKIP)

First of all I can completely sympathise with the Labour candidate in 2011. I have stood twice for local elections in Ceredigion and both times got completely hammered. In 2008, I stood in Ciliau Aeron ward and polled 151 votes (19%) compared to the winning Plaid Cymru candidate polling 544 votes (67%) and in 2012, I stood in Llansantffraed against the sitting Independent and polled 141 votes (14%) which as the total poll was 983 votes gives you an idea of the stuffing I recieved. So maybe it is no real suprise that Labour aren’t contesting this ward at this by-election but what it does offer us is the classic question that pollsters have been asking ever since 2013. “What happens in a straight fight between Conservative and UKIP?”.

Burnopfield and Dipton (Derwentside Independents Defence) and Evenwood (Lab Defence) on Durham
Result of last election to council (2013): Labour 94, Independents 9, Liberal Democrats 9, Derwentside Independents 8, Conservatives 4, Spennymoor Independent 1, Wear Valley Independent 1 (Labour majority of 62)
Result of wards at last election (2013)

Burnopfield and Dipton : Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 701, 688 (38%)
Derwentside Independents 760, 510 (35%)
Independents 381, 328, 257 (26%)
Candidates duly nominated: Alan Booth (Con), Gill Burnett (Derwentside Independents), Joanne Carr (Lab), Melanie Howd (Green)

Evenwood : Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 870, 655 (52%)
Conservatives 529, 362 (31%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 491 (17%)
Candidates duly nominated: Lee Carnighan (Ind), Ben Casey (UKIP), Stephen Hugill (Con), Greg Robinson (Green), Heather Smith (Lab)

Durham, that rock solid bastion of Labour support in the North East, does have a slight chink in it’s armour and that chink is the Derwentside Independents (who are more than a little miffed at seeing Derwentside simply disappear off the face of the electoral map). When the council disappeared in 2007, Labour only had a majority of three on the council (having lost 9 seats in those elections, eight going to said Derwentside Independents and one to the Liberal Democrats) and were probably very glad indeed to see the council merged with the other authorities in Durham to create the new Durham County Council. Indeed, if you add up the votes and seats in Derwentside, you find that although Labour won 11 of the 21 seats in the former council area, the Derwentside Independents won 8 and that Labour’s score of 49% was only ahead of the Derwentside Independents by a matter of 16% (in other words not the bastion that you might think of when thinking about Durham)

Newnham and Westbury on Forest of Dean (Ind Defence)
Result of last election to council (2011): Conservatives 19, Labour 17, Independents 11, Liberal Democrats 1 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 6)
Result of wards at last election (2011): Emboldened denoates elected
Independent 790
Conservatives 606, 196
Greens 318
Labour 256, 171
Candidates duly nominated: Richard Boyles (Con), Peter Foster (UKIP), Ian King (Lib Dem), Sid Phelps (Green), Simon Phelps (Ind), Jenny Shaw (Lab)

Mitcheldean on Gloucestershire (Ind Defence)
Result of last election to council (2013): Conservatives 23, Liberal Democrats 14, Labour 9, United Kingdom Independence Party 3, Independents 2, People against Bureaucracy 1, Green 1 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 4)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Independent 1,152 (36%), Conservatives 772 (24%), United Kingdom Independence Party 612 (19%), Labour 328 (10%), Liberal Democrats 179 (6%), Greens 120 (4%)
Candidates duly nominated: Malcolm Berry (UKIP), Jackie Fraser (Lab), Sue Henchley (Lib Dem), Ken Power (Green), Brian Robinson (Con), Ian Whitburn (Ind)

When the UKIP breakthrough occured in 2013, Gloucestershire was one of the first areas to experience it when UKIP won three seats on the county. Now, I agree that compared to now when UKIP seem to be winning seats on all manner of local authorities in such numbers as in Essex, three might seem a little disappointing, but it’s where those three were won that was the more intersting fact. The wins were in Blakeney and Bream, Drybrook and Lydbrook and Lydney (and all three were in the Forest of Dean district council area) and if you add up all the votes in that district area, the prospects become even more interesting for UKIP. UKIP polled 6,247 votes (28%) and won 3 seats with Labour second on 5,292 votes (24%) and 2 seats, the Conservatives third on 5,257 votes (24%) and 2 seats and the Independents on 3,055 votes (14%) and 1 seat. Therefore if UKIP can pull this double off (and as we saw in South Tyneside not that long ago, there is a precedent for Independents voting UKIP) then it will mean that Forest of Dean constituency (a traditional Con / Lab battleground) can be added to that list that seems to be ever expanding of UKIP prime targets.

Haywards Heath, Lucastes on Mid Sussex (Con Defence)
Result of council at last election (2011): Conservatives 45, Liberal Democrats 8, Labour 1
Result of ward at last election (2011): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,168, 1,143
Liberal Democrats 551, 499
Greens 390
United Kingdom Independence Party 157
Candidates duly nominated: Nicholas Chapman (Lib Dem), Henry Fowler (Lab), Marc Montgomery (UKIP), Geoffrey Rawlinson (Con)

Folkestone, Harvey West on Shepway (Con Defence)
Result of council at last election (2011): Conservatives 44, Independents 2
Result of ward at last election (2011): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 883, 870
Labour 374, 353
Liberal Democrats 342
Candidates duly nominated: Helen Barker (Con), Jasmine Heywood (Green), Stephen Jardine (UKIP), Nicola Keen Lab), Hugh Robertson-Ritchie (Lib Dem)

UKIP must be rubbing their hands with glee this week. Occasionally they may pick up one, maybe two gains on a good night. This evening could see them walk away with as many as four gains and in Shepway they have previous. Just six weeks ago, they gained Harvey Central in Folkestone on Shepway with a 6% majority in a ward that in 2011 didn’t even have a UKIP candidate, so with four potential gains this week, the small matter of a PCC by-election next week and in a month’s time the Rochester and Strood parliamentary by-election, the other parties need to ask themselves “Is there anything we can do to stop UKIP?” and if they do find an answer, they need to implement it fast as there are now less than two hundred days until the next election (which makes the debate in Parliament today about a possible repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments act very interesting indeed).


UPDATED: Just 5,688 of Rochester’s 70k+ electors took part in the Tory primary and the winner got it by less than 1%

October 23rd, 2014

The earlier Spectator report proved to an underestimate

I said beforehand that a 15% participation rate would be good given the time pressure. So to fall short of that by such a margin does not bode well for the Blue Team.

It really shows the lack of interest that voters there have in the party and doesn’t bode well for CON prospects in the election proper on November 20th.

I just wonder whether this will be the spur for LAB to take Rochester seriously.


After the ComRes Rochester poll UKIP becomes an even firmer betting favourite

October 23rd, 2014

Next we’ll see polls with the candidates named

Amazing to recall that two and a half weeks ago the Tories had a brief spell as favourite on the Rochester betting markets. Then came the first poll from Survation which had a 9% UKIP lead and now we have the ComRes 13% one.

It’s a brave punter who in these circumstances bets against the polling and inevitably the UKIP price has tightened.

The only things that will budge this are developments that’ll point to the battle being tighter than is currently seen.

This evening we’ll get news of the Tory all postal primary. If the turnout is reasonable then it might give the blues a boost. What they will have from this evening is a candidate that they will claim has a mandate because of the way she’s been selected.

The next thing I’m hoping to see is a poll with all the candidates being named.

Too often we look at these thing in terms of party battles alone when in by elections in particular candidates can matter enormously. The government of the country is not at stake and people are voting for an individual.

So far the great single constituency pollster, Lord Ashcroft, has yet to dip his toe into the Rochester water. Surely an early survey from him is not far off?

Mike Smithson


Generally the oldies are the key group for UKIP yet in the ComRes Rochester poll they give Reckless a lead of just 1%

October 23rd, 2014

Looking more closely at the numbers

Let there be no doubt – the UKIP donor funded ComRes Rochester poll was terrible news for the Tories coming as it has just before the party announces the result of its all-postal primary on who should be the candidate.

Looking closely at the ComRes data two demographic segments stand out. Firstly there are the oldies, those of 65 and above, who normally are the biggest supporters of all for Farage’s party. In this poll however, as the extract from the dataset above shows, it is nothing like as clear cut with Mark Reckless just 1% ahead.

As I’ve said many times on PB in a vast range of elections the oldies are crucial. They are most likely to be on the electoral register, most likely to actually vote and least likely to change their mind.

The second positive figure for the Tories from the demographic splits is how well the blues are doing with the AB groups showing a clear cut lead.

The big feature from the poll is how reliant in the ComRes poll UKIP are on non-voters from 2010. This is what the leading political scientist and UKIP expert, Rob Ford, Tweeted last night:-

I’m told that we should be getting the results from the CON Rochester postal primary this evening. The number to look out for is the turnout.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble